Eating & Drinking

What’s in that drink? Behind the bar at Jabberwocky

Statistics Canada reported that the average profit margins for restaurants across the country (in 2017) were just under four percent. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for restaurant owners, especially those running independent shops who don’t have safety net that comes with being part of a chain. Between operating expenses and the cost of any advertising or community involvement, not to mention unexpected disruptions like construction or natural disasters, the list of expenses can seem to totally outweigh the money coming in. All of these expenses are baked into the menu price, of course — guests are not only paying for the food, but every aspect of the plate’s journey before it is set down at the table. 

While the net profit on dishes is typically small, restaurants often get by with higher profit margins on boozy beverages. That doesn’t mean that drinks are a thoughtless add-on, just thrown on the menu — in many restaurants you’ll find the creations behind the bar getting the same amount of attention as those coming out of the kitchen. 

In this series, we step behind the bar to get a close look at the ingredients — and inspiration — that goes into those fancy drinks. 

Related: What’s in that drink? Behind the bar at Town
Related: What’s in that drink? Behind the bar at Supply & Demand

What’s in Jabberwocky’s “Bapa’s Knees”

Cocktails are a big focus at Jabberwocky — their list has 13 standards as well as over a dozen seasonal drinks that change twice a year. Like their sister restaurant, Union 613, the menu is determined collaboratively through a cocktail “cook” gathering that sees bartenders make their proposed drinks for one another. Feedback is given, recipes are tweaked; the goal is to put forth a cocktail menu that is balanced and varied. 

Robb’d at Greenpoint is a standard on the Jabberwocky cocktail menu. Photo by Katie Shapiro

The kitchen at Jabberwocky is a small countertop space at the end of the bar where creative plant-based dishes are prepared. While they do make money off of these tasty small plates, mixed drinks are the main attraction. 

Co-owner Tristan Bragaglia-Murdock says the bartending style at Jabberwocky is inspired by classic techniques — and “nerding out over minutiae.” One of Jabberwocky’s most popular drinks is the Bapa’s Knees, a new take on the classic gin cocktail, the Bees Knees. In Jabberwocky’s version, the sweetener is a burnt honey syrup, with honey coming from local producer Bapas Bees and a pinch of chili powder. The Bapa’s Knees builds on the simplicity of the three ingredient drink (gin, lemon juice, and honey) by “amping up the flavours a little bit” Bragaglia-Murdock explains. 

Putting the finishing touches on Bapa’s Knees. Photos by Katie Shapiro

Along with lemon juice and syrup, the bartenders at Jabberwocky make a sage lavender cordial, and combine it with a beeswax washed gin. What’s washed gin? It’s made using a technique called fat washing, which involves using a fat (like melted butter or olive oil) to infuse an alcohol. The fat imparts its flavour and rich texture into the alcohol; once the mixture is chilled, the fat is strained or skimmed off.

The “fat washing” step in creating the Bapa’s Knees. Photo by Katie Shapiro

Finding the most efficient and effective way to make the beeswax washed gin involved a bit of trial and error. Bragaglia-Murdock eventually settled on a kind of bain-marie techniqueAll this might have have led to a few sleepless nights for Bragaglia-Murdock, but the result is an amazing drink that’s generating lots of buzz for Jabberwocky.